Here's Why Nobody Has Gone To The Moon In Over 45 Years, According To A Former Astronaut
Few historical events could surpass the iconic moment of the man on the moon. It's the pinnacle of innovation, a step toward exploration beyond Earth.
So why haven't humans stepped foot on the moon in more than four decades? Why isn't the space program maximizing lunar presence considering its endless potential?
In an interview with Business Insider, former astronaut Chris Hadfield stresses the importance of building a permanent research station on the moon, describing it as "the next logical step" in the space program.
"And we have a whole bunch of stuff we have to invent and then test in order to learn before we can go deeper out," he points out.
The problem is simple and extremely complex at the same time.
NASA And Its Budget
The costs are sky-high for trips to the moon, let alone for an entire research station based there. More specifically, manned missions are too expensive for NASA's meager budget.
At face value, the money allotted for the space program is quite steep: $19.5 billion annually, which may potentially increase to $19.9 billion in 2019.
However, this amount is split among numerous divisions — the James Webb Space Telescope, Mars, and many others — all of which are already extremely expensive on their own.
Furthermore, NASA's portion of the United States' federal budget has been steadily decreasing over the years.
As Apollo 7 astronaut Walter Cunningham points out in his congressional testimony in 2015, NASA's portion of the budget was the highest in 1965 at 4 percent. This was four years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first landed on the moon.
By contrast, it has been kept under 1 percent for the past 40 years and approaching 0.4 percent of the federal budget in the last 15 years.
Manned missions are very pricey, so Cunningham is not too optimistic that the ambitious plans of getting to the moon and to Mars will be part of NASA's immediate future.
"Unless the country ... decided to put more money in it, this is just talk that we're doing here," he continues during the testimony, according to Scientific American. "NASA's budget is way too low to do all the things that we've talked about doing here this afternoon."
The current Trump administration wants to get astronauts near the moon by 2023, but Hadfield isn't too confident in the likelihood. After all, this would be toward the end of the president's second term — which means he would have to be reelected.
NASA's challenge with presidents, Business Insider notes, is the shifting agendas of each administration. Many of the space agency's projects require the commitment of several years, if not decades. This means that each one will eventually outlast whoever is the head of state who approved it, making the mission vulnerable to being scrapped in favor of another mission that the new president prefers.
For example, NASA's $9 billion Constellation program during the Bush administration was discontinued by the Obama administration to prioritize the SLS rocket. Meanwhile, when President Donald Trump took his seat, he chose to forego Obama's decision to send astronauts to asteroids and decided to focus on Mars and the moon.
The shifting landscape results in wasted precious time and money that is already in short supply.
Private Space Companies Offer Hope
Fortunately, it's not just NASA who is working toward expanding Earth's reach in space. Private companies are now making their mark in the industry, including Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.
"The innovation that's been going on over the last 10 years in spaceflight never would've happened if it was just NASA and Boeing and Lockheed," astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman explains in a roundtable discussion, according to Business Insider. "Because there was no motivation to reduce the cost or change the way we do it."